Letter to paper infuriates Carroll resident

Remarks about land law backer called anti-Semitic

February 26, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Edward Primoff has drawn harsh criticism from his political opponents for years, but the Carroll County property rights advocate is so incensed by comments he called libelous and anti-Semitic in a letter published in the Jan. 31 Mount Airy Gazette that he's considering legal recourse, he said.

The letter, written by South Carroll community leader and longtime Primoff antagonist Nimrod Davis, says, "one carpetbagger filled his bag with gelt and came north to Carroll County from Howard County. He knew that the Carroll County farmers were just right to be picked clean by the big developers and builders."

The questions of anti-Semitism are attached to Davis' use of the words gelt, a colloquial Yiddish term for money, and carpetbagger, a term for Northerners who allegedly took advantage of poverty in the post-Civil War South to accrue political influence and financial gain. Anti-Semites throughout history have portrayed Jews as money-seeking interlopers.

Though the letter does not name Primoff, it offers multiple clues to whom Davis is referring, including that the subject moved from Howard to Carroll 12 years ago, is a member of the county's zoning ordinance review committee and has a wife on the Carroll Ethics Commission. All of that is true of Primoff.

Primoff said he first objected to the letter's implication that he has fleeced county farmers. The charge hurt him, he said, because he has spent so much time protecting farmers' development rights and land values. He picked up the anti-Semitic connotations on closer reading, he said. Primoff's parents were Jewish, but he is not a practicing Jew, he said.

"I've turned the cheek too long and ignored this nasty, slanderous, untrue stuff," Primoff said. "There has to be a time to draw the line."

Davis said he believes Primoff is a carpetbagger because he's used the support of Carroll farmers to become a leading conservative voice in county political circles. Davis said he used the term gelt as a synonym for money, adding that several of his co-workers over the years have used the term.

"It wasn't a racist remark," Davis said. "And as far as the letter goes, there's nothing in there that isn't really happening. As far as what's happening in the county, I don't see eye to eye with him, and he knows that."

Primoff has been on the pro-development side of many issues since he formed the Carroll County Landowners Association in 1994. The organization, designed to protect farmers' property rights, has a membership of about 2,000 families, Primoff said.

Most recently, Primoff championed a zoning law that critics around the county and state planners say will prompt unbridled development on Carroll farmland. Primoff was a member of the appointed committee that helped write the law. He used it to submit a subdivision plan for his 200-acre property in Woodbine, which showed a conflict of interest, Davis and other slow-growth advocates contended.

Davis' letter criticizes Primoff for his role in the zoning battle and for what Davis calls his immense behind-the-scenes power over county leaders.

Mount Airy Gazette Publisher Carol Blackburn declined to comment on the letter or Primoff's reaction. The weekly newspaper is owned by the Washington Post Co., which would handle any legal action against the Gazette, Blackburn said.

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